Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Three sentences for the past and three for the future

New Years is the time for reflection and intention. Get your pencils out or have your fingers ready on the keyboard:

Can you sum up 2011 in three sentences?

Then write three sentences that sum up what you see for yourself in 2012.

If you're in one of my writing classes, bring your sentences to class if you'd like to share or comment here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Oakland Anthology Book Launch Reception

On December 9th, the Oakland Anthology Reception for "Tapestries" was an outstanding event. Great cake, in the shape and colors of the book, inspiring and creative readers, and a sense of a strong writing community.

I had the honor of being the Mistress of Ceremonies and since the speaker for "Writing Community" was unable to attend, I took his place. I always have a lot to say about the importance of Writing Community.

A memorable event and a terrific book.


This year's Oakland Anthology is called "Tapestries". There are some available for purchase, $15, they make great gifts.

Contact Jennifer King, at the Downtown Oakland Senior Center,

Monday, December 5, 2011

Backstory Tip

Robert McKee bases his advice on films but novelists can follow his tips as well. He states, regarding backstory, that novelists can free associate and "invade the thoughts and feelings of characters", which filmmakers cannot.

He says in bold type: "do not bring in a flashback until you have created in the audience the need and desire to know". It's good advice for novelists too even if we are able to do flashes of backstory in our characters' internalizations. The determination of how much past information to put into our story is easier if we keep McKee's advice in mind.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Kurt Vonnegut Quote

I read this quote out of context but for me it applies to keeping tension on every page.

"We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down."

On second thought, it could be a writer's philosophy.

Happy flying.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ralph Waldo Emerson quote

Emerson said, "Love of beauty is Taste. The creation of beauty is Art."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, November 20, 2011

NaNoWriMo and more

This year's NaNoWriMo novel is "Across the Lake", a continuation of Lilli's search for self while homeless on the streets of Oakland.

Meantime "Hada's Fog" is in the sixth and final draft.

Plus members of my Monday and Tuesday writing classes are contributing to a book dedicated to Nancy O'Connell and Grace Navalta that I hope to self-publish before February.


The illnesses and the passings of four dear people in three months caused a distraction filled with love and loss. Grace, Ron, Hedy, and Nancy, you are loved and missed.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Proust Quote

The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.

- Marcel Proust

Monday, July 11, 2011

Kingsolver quote

"What keeps me awake at the wheel is the thrill of trying something completely new with each book. I’m not a risk-taker in life, generally speaking, but as a writer I definitely choose the fast car, the impossible rock face, the free fall.”

— Barbara Kingsolver

Novels by Kingsolver:

"The Bean Trees", was published in 1988, her first novel and told the story of a young woman who leaves Kentucky for Arizona, adopting an abandoned child along the way; she wrote it at night while pregnant with her first child and struggling with insomnia.

"Animal Dreams" published in 1990, was followed by "Pigs in Heaven", the sequel to "The Bean Trees", in 1993.

"The Poisonwood Bible", published in 1998, is one of her best known works; it chronicles the lives of the wife and daughters of an Evangelical minister on a Christian mission in Africa. I highly recommend this one. It's long but worth it.

Her next novel, published in 2000, was "Prodigal Summer", set in southern Appalachia, and her most recent work, entitled "The Lacuna", was published in 2009.

Kingsolver is a master of character development and her settings are memorable.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Show and Tell---Chekhov

In the Dublin writing class, I'm providing exercises for practice in showing, not telling. I found this quote by Anton Chekhov:

"Don't tell me the moon is shining: show me the glint of light on broken glass."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Nix Adverbs

Although my WOW flash contest entry made it to the final 100 out of 300 submissions, it did not win. I received the critique I had ordered from them. A couple comma errors were indicated and an adverb. I thought I could leave one little adverb in a story of 710 words...big mistake.

In the critique, the editor said, “Fantastic job of not overloading this piece with adverbs.” Yet, she marked sadly as an error, which contributed to lowering my score.

If you are tempted to leave a couple of adverbs, or even one, in a contest entry or any submission for publication, remember my little sadly and ruthlessly delete. (Adverb alert!)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

That and Which

Here is a review of when to use which and when to use that:

That is used without a comma when the clause that follows is essential information. For example: The book that he wrote was burned by the angry group.

Which is used, with a comma, when the following clause is incidental (filler) information. For example: The book, which was bound in leather, stayed on the shelf unread.

Key words are essential and incidental when you determine the uses of that and which.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Adair Lara Advice

Award-winning author and writing coach Adair Lara talks about writing essays and memoirs in her book, Strip and Go Naked. One suggestion is that since the turning point is the goal, it should come at the end. If essayists begin with the turning point and work back they will realize the revelation and they’ll instinctively know where to start.

She states, "There are two kinds of writing: pieces that don’t work and pieces that don’t work yet. Let a piece marinate and come back to it." Lara says it like it is with, "If people can’t get over their dislike of revision, they aren’t writers."

A strong statement, but a correct one in my opinion. After five drafts of my novel, Hada's Fog, I'd like to ask Lara, when does revision stop? I have a feeling it never does.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Between the Lines

My writing students and I have discussed back story blocks many times, yet those paragraphs of info dumps creep into many a good read and we either skip them or put the story down for later. Often, the later never comes. The story had a good plot, interesting characters, sensory setting, hooks and tension, but remains unread, too long on a shelf, and eventually ends up in the library's donation box.

The writer's job when editing, is to get out of the writer's head and look at what's written from the reader's viewpoint. Look at those blocks. Was all that telling necessary? Will those paragraphs move the story or stop it? Take them out. Cut and paste them into a note file. Sprinkle some of the lines in the story as you go along or to remember them might be all that's needed.

If the writer knows the details, the reader will be able to read between the lines.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Chris Baty of NaNoWriMo in Pleasanton on Saturday

The Tri-Valley Chapter of the California Writers Club will have Chris Baty as the speaker for their May 21st meeting. I highly recommend attending (non-members are welcome). Here is a little background from their newsletter and notice the name of a successful author who wrote her first draft during National Novel Writing Month:

A resident of Berkeley, California, Chris is the founder of National Novel Writing Month and the Executive Director of its parent nonprofit, the Office of Letters and Light.

Chris started his novel writing project in July, 1999 with 21 participants in the San Francisco Bay area. In 2000, it was moved to November “to more fully take advantage of the miserable weather,” and an official website was launched. That year 140 participants signed up for the event, including several from other countries, and 21 completed the challenge. The following year, Baty expected similar numbers but 5,000 participants registered. In 2010, it was 200,000.

But does it work? Ask Sara Gruen, who wrote the first draft of her award-winning best-seller, Water for Elephants, during NaNoWriMo.

The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. I've written the first draft of four novels in the four years I've participated.

Take this opportunity to meet Chris who will inspire and entertain you. Oasis Grille,780 Main Street, Pleasanton, Saturday May 21st at noon.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Another View of Rewriting

A quote from Author Peter Murphy:

"Rewriting is like scrubbing the basement floor with a toothbrush."

One of my writer friends who doesn't like to rewrite said that quote resonated because his basement has a dirt floor.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Here's a quote from Arthur Polotnik:

"You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Agent April Eberhardt

April is enthusiastic when she hears about writers' projects.I had pitched my novel to her at the S.F. Writers Conference a couple of times. This year I attended one of her talks and found out that she has started her own agency.



She "specializes in high quality women's fiction: thoughtful, carefully crafted narratives by, for and about women." She understands both traditional and electronic marketplaces.

Check out her website and see if she might be a match for your work.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Tribute to Stories, Writers, and Readers

Anne Ayers Koch is working on an outstanding book, a book of reflections on stories. Here is a peek from the preface where she quotes Martin Tupper in "On Reading" in 1838: "A good book is the best of friends, the same today and forever."

Anne ended the preface with "Here's to some good friends!"

I'll let you know when her book is published so you can revisit good friends and enjoy her writing.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pleasanton Poetry, Prose, and Arts Festival

Another year, another festival over. It was held at the Pleasanton Firehouse instead of the Pleasanton Senior Center.

David Alpaugh's workshop included his outstanding handouts. He encouraged writers to explore Duotrope's Digest, a free writers' resource listing over 3325 current Fiction and Poetry publications. It's an efficient way to search for markets. Find the list that fits for you, click on the detail button to find out which market is looking for what. Another plus is that Duotrope gives the payscale and the markets' average response times. It's easy to navigate, even for me.

There's a sign up for email notification of their updates.

Worth checking out.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

First Sentence Quote

Prose says it perfectly in one sentence what we take hours, days, weeks, months, and sometimes years to get right.

"Your first sentence should make a promise that the rest of the story will keep." - Francine Prose


Author Neale Donald Walsch emails daily inspirations and although today's is geared for a spiritual message, I think it works for writers too. "...that imagination is your greatest gift. Do not be afraid to use it."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Rats in the Walls of the Psyche

At the the S.F. Writers Conference, Author Elizabeth Engstrom said that when she is writing a novel, characters and plots for short stories nag at her until she writes them. She calls these stories, “rats in the walls of her psyche”. At times she tells them to go away but at other times, she will write the story and submit it to publications that have printed her stories in the past. Engstrom likes to use the lull in her novel, that part in the middle she calls a wasteland, to take a break and write that short story. She's able to complete the first draft in twenty-four hours and that quiets the rat.

I’m reminded of the gray roof rat we recently sent on its way.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Books Agents Read

During a workshop with a panel of agents at the S.F. Writers Conference, an attendee asked what they liked to read. April Eberhardt, among other agents, tossed out some titles they recently read or that were favorites: Banished, Still Alice, Shadow of the Wind, Three Cups of Tea, and Guilty Pleasure.

Are any of those books on your list?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Importance of the Antagonist

Author Elizabeth Engstrom says, “Your story is only as strong as your antagonist”.

Check yours out. Is he/she tough enough?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dorothy Allison at the S.F. Writers Conference

Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina, gave the keynote speech at the conference. Here is an encouraging quote:

“They will say to you that publishing is dead. But after the Black Death comes the Renaissance. After everything changes, we go back to essentials. And this is what I believe is essential: We’re lonely. We’re scared. Some of us have insomnia. We get up in the night, and we walk back and forth. You can only watch television so long. PDX 90? Damned if I’m doin’ exercises in the night. Oprah? I already saw the show. No, no, no. I get up in the night, an’ I need a story. I need a book. I need somebody to invite me into a world they have imagined whole. Or stolen. I genuinely don’t care. Just take me there. Ride me on language. Charm me. Fascinate me. Scare me or excite me, but take me out of myself. We are lonely. We are scared. We need story. That does not change.”

At the end of her talk, Allison quoted Vladimir Nabokov: “I don’t write to change people. I don’t write to make a difference. I write to make that still, small sob in the spine.” Allison then said, “That is not about money. That is not about prices. That is about that immediate, intimate connection.” She paused and everyone waited, absorbed in what she had said and would say, “Let the culture, let the economics, run behind me. I know what I’m doin’. I write to make that still, small sob in the spine.”

She received a standing ovation.

Friday, February 25, 2011

San Francisco Writers Conference

February 18-20, 2011 records another great writers conference. New information, new friends, new inspirations along with seeing old friends makes this annual event one I wouldn't miss.

This year's keynote speaker was Dorothy Allison whose books were recommended to me five years ago when I became a volunteer for this conference. After she spoke, everyone in the Mark Hopkins Hotel Dining Room gave her a standing ovation.

I work the registration desk on Friday and Saturday mornings. With my three helpers, we made sure all 320 attendees were welcomed. In the afternoons and on Sunday, I was free to go to the workshops. Although I had several presenters checked, I wasn't able to hear all of them. I missed Ransom Stephens and Teresa Leyung Ryan but had a chance to greet them with hugs in the halls. Ransom's "The God Patent" is one of my all time favorite books, and Teresa is an enthusiastic supporter of building your writer's platform.

Penny Warner, humorous as always, passed out clever bookmarks and colorful key chains with the picture of her latest cozy mystery book's cover: "How to Survive a Killer Seance", which is set in the Winchester Mystery House.

Future blogs will have tips I learned from other workshops. A conference is one of the best ways to mix with other writers and to meet published authors and agents.

Mark your calendars for February next year and see you there.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Time and Taxes

Time seems to be elusive lately. I realized I haven't blogged since December and here it is February. I'm involved with several projects and soon Taxes will be added. With many people thinking about the IRS and money right now, I found this quote that might ease some frustration:

"The real capital you have is your own consciousness."

~ Dr. Pillai

Gratitude for my consciousness helps to put Taxes in a manageable chore box where I have faith in myself that I'll get them done...just not right now. That due date is a whole two months away.

Time is important to a writer...not only setting aside time to write, but also to use it creatively in writing a story. I remember a short story I read that had a strong sense of time passing during a late afternoon and evening. There was little action in the story, it was mostly the characters' intense conversation. But after all these years, when I think of that story, I can still feel a sense of the room darkening although it wasn't specifically stated. One of the ways I was aware that time was passing, is that the characters poured themselves several drinks during the course of the dialogue. We all know how long it takes to have a social drink and with the inclusion of at least three or four refills, the author showed me that it was getting late, the crisis was building, and I wondered if there would be a fight or a resolution to their philosophical differences. Time and tension go together.

A story around Taxes would be a tension filled story. Meeting the due date for a huge project often has unexpected interferences and hence, a story line.

Make friends with Time for more reasons than one.